On Friday, the Obria Group, a network of anti-abortion clinics, quietly dropped a lawsuit it had filed against the Department of Health and Human Services. In the now-abandoned suit, Obria argued that forcing Title X grantees—of which it is now one—to provide information about or referrals for abortion violated federal religious discrimination laws. But seeing as the federal government appears to heartily agree on this point, the nonprofit abandoned the litigation. Why fight a fight you’ve already won?
Obria, as you may recall, is the first explicitly religious and anti-contraceptive organization to successfully apply for federal Title X funding under new Trump administration guidelines. Formerly a more traditional Christian crisis pregnancy center, Obria rebranded in 2015, hoping to sustain an ambitious expansion plan using federal funding. With a network of Obria-affiliated clinics and a new—if still functionally useless—app, the nonprofit hopes to target “abortion-vulnerable women” and reroute them away from comprehensive clinics like Planned Parenthood.
In April, Obria’s flagship California network announced that it had secured an annual $1.6 million in federal funding for the next three years. By May, the question of whether Obria would be required to provide information on abortions or prescribe contraceptives was the subject of some debate: the Trump administration’s domestic “gag rule”—which bars Title X recipients from providing abortion information and referrals—was already tied up in the courts, even as federal officials said the agency wouldn’t force organizations like Obria to go against their stated religious convictions on abortion and contraception. “The Department has acknowledged that it cannot enforce the current requirement for nondirective abortion counseling and abortion referral with respect to Title X grantees, clinics, or providers that object to providing such services, as a result of certain federal conscience protection statutes,” a spokesperson told Politico at the time.
Still, Obria filed a lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services in mid-May, arguing that its clinics operate “pursuant to and consistent with their Christian religious beliefs concerning the inviolable dignity of every person, particularly those often treated without regard in society, such as the poor, the sick, and the unborn.”
“Obria and Obria SoCal have sincere religious beliefs that it would be immoral and sinful for them to assist in ending an unborn life,” the complaint read, “including by referral for abortion.”
In May, the Office of Civil Rights within the Department of Health and Human Services published new guidance that was rather heartening to religious organizations such as Obria: the new rules allow exemptions for healthcare organizations and employees who have objections to paying for, referring for, or providing services including abortion. “Finally, laws prohibiting government funded discrimination against conscience and religious freedom will be enforced like every other civil rights law.” Roger Severino, the director of the Office of Civil Rights, said in a statement at the time.
The new rule has implications beyond just abortion access, but the statement made clear that the procedure is one of its primary targets: “This rule ensures that healthcare entities and professionals won’t be bullied out of the health care field because they decline to participate in actions that violate their conscience, including the taking of human life.”
In a court filing on Friday, Obria’s lawyers invoked these rules, which have clearly been reassuring: the nonprofit voluntarily dropping the suit.
“It’s great to see the government admit that no doctor, nurse, or other medical professional should ever have to violate her beliefs in order to serve people in need,” Lori Windham, an attorney for Obria, wrote in a statement to Jezebel.
The statement went on to quote Kathleen Eaton-Bravo, Obria’s founder and CEO: “I am grateful Obria Clinics will be able to continue the groundbreaking medical work we do.” (HHS has not responded to Jezebel’s request for comment, but we will certainly update this post if they do.)
Meanwhile, as the Trump administration makes its own rules around enforcement and what constitutes comprehensive family planning, an estimated 4 million people rely on Title X for care.